One of the things about growing older is the gradual realization of just how much junk you’ve accumulated over the years.
Of course, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.
For years, my father owned a faded old blue shirt. You wouldn’t have given it a second glance if you’d seen it in a pile of rags in a thrift shop, but it was one of his most prized possessions.
He’d bought it in his first year of college when, in his words, he didn’t have much money, so it was a big deal for him to get something new to wear, and, boy, did he get a lot of wear out that shirt over the decades.
He says he was wearing it when he first met Mother and it was on him when he proposed a few years later. We have family pictures of him wearing it when my sister was born, when he took Jack on his first fishing trip, and there he is wearing it in my graduation picture, smiling proudly.
Father loved that shirt even though he could now afford to buy an entire wardrobe of much nicer shirts. And over the years, the collar got frayed, buttons fell off and, not to be delicate about it, he put on weight to the point that each time he struggled into that shirt, it was like watching an anaconda tackle a hog.
Needless to say, Mother hated that shirt but to her credit, she never could bring herself to ‘accidentally on purpose’ get rid of it. The day the housekeeper poked her head around the corner with a nervous twitch to tell Mother that the shirt had ripped right down the back seam in the wash was a good day in Mei-ling Hahn’s calendar.
Since then, Father has been unable to wear anything blue. “I really did love that shirt,” he told me recently, his skin still haunted by a piece of clothing that represented so many happy memories in his life. Mother says she doesn’t have the heart to tell him that the torn shirt eventually ended up being used to clean up after the dogs.
I remembered my father’s shirt a few days ago when Saffy sat down at the breakfast table and announced that she was about to do a major purge.
Amanda sighed. “Really? While I’m having my breakfast? Why can’t you just be regular like the rest of us?”
“I’m not talking about that! Though, thank you for your thoughtful concern!” Saffy said, her formidable bosom straining to maximum volume. “No, I’ve just realized that I have so much stuff in my room and I don’t use most of it!”
It turns out that Saffy had been watching an old episode of Oprah starring the cleaning expert Peter Walsh. One of the suggestions he had to clear clutter was to hang all your clothes hangers in one direction and every time you wear an item, hang it back with the hanger facing the opposite direction. At the end of six months, all the clothes that are still hanging in the original position should be thrown out.
“Peter Walsh says we wear thirty percent of our clothes seventy percent of the time,” Saffy reported, spooning a big dollop of honey over her muesli. “I think my percentage is ten percent and ninety percent!”
“Huh,” Amanda said, her mind mentally riffling through her wardrobe which is considerably more extensive and valuable than Saffy’s.
“So, I think I’m going to start throwing things out,” Saffy went on. “And when I’m done, I’m going to do my books. I have books I bought ten years ago which I’ve never read and which I’ve just been carting all over the place every time I move. It’s ridiculous!”
“And dusty!” I added.
“Tell it! I sometimes wonder if they’re the reason I’m always sneezing!”
Amanda stared at her neat piles of Vogue in the corner of the living room. She refers to them as her Style Library and has always said that when she has a moment, she’s going to index her favourite pages. As it is, she struggles to get through each issue before a new one arrives in the post.
And so, the piles have grown over the years. Ah Chuan, our faithful cleaning lady, hates them and will complain to anyone who will listen that they should try mopping a floor cluttered with sun-faded copies of Vogue.
“Those magazines are very important to me,” Amanda told Ah Chuan the other day in her odd mix of Hokkien, Cantonese and sign language.
Ah Chuan arranged her face into an understanding smile. The smile never reached her eyes, and I couldn’t help but notice how she tightened her grip on the mop.